The kings of the Jewish nation lived under a very different set of norms
than their colleagues in the surrounding nations. Jewish Kings were
mandated by our Torah to maintain a sense of humility and spirituality
despite the glory and the trappings of royalty. They were instructed to
limit their conspicuous consumption (Devorim 17:16-17) “lest their
hearts stray from Hashem,” and were reminded to regularly read from
the Torah (Devorim 17:19-20) “so that their hearts do not become
Congruent to the theme of having a Torah-led monarchy, each king was
instructed to write a Sefer Torah (Devarim 17:18) once his reign was
properly established. Throughout the years of his reign, the king would
carry the Sefer wherever he went and would read from its contents
regularly. It is interesting to note that the mitzvah of having this royal
Sefer Torah was not fulfilled if the king inherited a Torah from his
family members. Even if that were the case, he was still obligated to
write a sefer of his own.
This would seem to symbolize that regardless of his ‘yichus’ – the
accomplishments of his ancestors – each king needed to make his own
positive impact and legacy by living a meaningful life.
His Sefer Torah
There is much discussion among our chachamim (sages) as to the purpose of
having the kings write and carry their personal Sefer Torah. Special
attention is given by the meforshim (commentaries) to the words, “Vhaya
emo, v’karah bo kol yemei chayav – it [the Torah] shall be with him, and
he shall read from it all the days of his life." (Devarim 17:19)
Rashi interprets this phrase quite literally and explains that this Torah
was intended to be with him at all times. It served as the King’s
spiritual compass, and reminded him of his bearings and of his sacred
Ramban comments that the king needed to internalize the eternal lessons of
the Torah to the extent that they [the lessons contained in the Torah]
remain with him all the days of his life.
Rabbi Moshe Sofer, known as the Chasam Sofer, explains that the Torah
needed to be in the possession of the king at all times since he would
need to make difficult decisions throughout his reign – often far from his
palace. The Torah would serve as his guide to which he can consult with
[read from, as the pasuk states] whenever he needed guidance.
Two Sifrei Torah
The Gemorah (Sanhedrin 21b) relates that the king, in fact, maintained two
Sifrei Torah. One was carried with him at all times, and the other was
stored in his treasure room. The Rambam notes that if the king inherited
one Sefer, he would write the second one on his own. If, however, he did
not own a Sefer Torah, he would be obligated to write two sefarim.
The question arises; why was there a need for two Sifrei Torah, and why
was the second one stored in his treasure house, of all places?
Keeping the ‘Original’
I would like to suggest that there was powerful symbolism in these
requirements made of our kings.
Think of the last time that you studied, or rather crammed for finals. You
copied a friend’s notes (or they copied yours). Then, copies were made of
the copies, and so on, until it became quite difficult to read the words
on the paper due to the fact that they were copied so many times. At that
point, a frantic search took place for the original copy.
This analogy may shed light on the reason for the two seforim maintained
by the king. During his tenure, the king traveled the length and breath of
his country. He led his troops in battle, and often made very difficult
life-and-death choices. He carried a Torah with him at all times to keep
his spiritual bearings and live by its eternal messages.
Often, however, people tend to change with time as they make sometimes-
necessary accommodations to the realities of their lives. It was therefore
imperative that the king maintains an original copy of the Torah in his
treasure room. Storing the original Torah in his treasure house reminded
him of the primary value of the Torah in his life – and that it was worthy
of the most elevated level of security.
The ‘stored’ sefer also concentrated the mind and heart of the King on the
pristine, untouched Torah that was in his vault for safekeeping. The King
would compare the sefer that he carried with him on his daily excursions
with the original version – and refresh his commitment to maintaining its
Rabbi Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam in Monsey, NY, as well as the founder and Program Director of Agudath Israel's Project Y.E.S. (Youth Enrichment Services), which helps at-risk teens and their parents. He is a popular lecturer on teaching and parenting topics in communities around the world, and is the author of several best-selling parenting tape and CD sets. For more information on Rabbi Horowitz's parenting tapes, visit http://www.rabbihorowitz.com/ or call 845-352-7100 X 133.